Don't Execute Juvenile Offenders

THE crimes committed by youngsters are all the more horrific for the youth of the offenders. A 10-year-old boy is convicted of selling cocaine. A 16-year-old who killed his parents and brother and wounded his sister with a shotgun calls himself ``Rambo,'' after his movie hero. The Supreme Court today takes up teenage death penalties. With eight justices on the bench, the court last year split on the issue; the addition of conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy now makes it more likely the court will rule definitively on whether those who committed their crimes as juveniles can be executed.

The Monitor has long opposed capital punishment in the United States (the only Western democracy that still has the death penalty). Killing as government-sanctioned punishment/retribution ignores the possibility of repentance, rehabilitation, and moral regeneration. It brutalizes society, as the conduct of bystanders celebrating outside the prison walls while Ted Bundy was executed recently showed.

Even with the ``improved'' capital punishment laws called for in the high court's 1976 ruling, there are solid reasons to oppose it: evidence that the threat of execution does not deter crime; the fact that economic status, region, and especially race influence imposition of the death penalty; the times - sometimes years later - when criminal convictions are reversed. (At one point, the man whose 1977 conviction for killing a policeman was just overturned by a Texas court had only three days until execution.)

Society assumes that juveniles - because of their immaturity - are incapable of voting or serving on juries. It is also reasonable to assume that teenagers - again because of their immaturity - may be more likely than adults to respond to rehabilitation.

These are philosophical and legal debating points, interesting and maybe relevant. But the best argument against the teenage death penalty is still this: Killing as a form of punishment is wrong.

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